Monday, 12 July 2010

What is the role of example from Portobello

I came across this opinion piece in the Evening Standard last week and it pulls no punches in criticising the role of a Local Authority planner.

I was less interested in why the antiques market is worth saving and more so on what powers planners should have to control development. The article's author calls the planner 'spineless' which I think is unfair as the problem lies within planning law. If the developer wants to change the market to high end retail units then he is fully within his rights. Plus, if the planner does refuse permission and the case ends up at appeal (as the author suggests he should do) the Local Authority will lose and the tax payer will foot the bill for wasted time and resources.

At a higher level the argument is with capitalism and the desire to increase surplus value from land. But what about the view from the street? Clearly the antiques market is prime real estate and could be turning over a greater profit for the owner and/or the shareholders if redeveloped. But what would be lost if the antiques market were to disappear? Character? Heritage? Tradition? Maybe all these things.

The article suggests that planning decisions should take greater account of the number of objections. I would prefer to see this the other way around. What about if policy took a greater account of local opinion in the first place? Alot of time and struggle could be saved later on when controversial applications like this arise.


  1. The first of three interesting blog posts... is this blog in competition with Dan Richardson's on E. European football? ;0)

    Paris is historically a perverse example given the destruction wrought during the Haussmanian era, but surely the reason that I can't quite imagine this situation occurring over here is that French planning law must go further than defining the use of land by economic activity and probably gives planners more power to veto controversial projects? (This is also an area which I occasionally stray into tangentially at work, with foreign investors wishing to build e.g. a large manufacturing facility... the rules seem pretty complicated as to where it may or may not be put!!)

    I also know that consultations are undertaken seriously- I've received mail to at least two major project discussions in my time here as a resident- which, despite the time and money involved in going through the process probably avoids controversy later, as you suggest.

    Paris seems very keen to preserve its local character - small boutiques, street markets etc. - which is pretty nicely compartmentalized and makes it a pleasure to live here. That said, major projects have hit controversy before now - Les Halles (see wikipedia) in the very centre used to be the main wholesale market, which got transplanted to the suburbs (Rungis) about 40 years ago and replaced by a concrete shopping complex and metro/crossrail interchange... which last time I looked is all up for being knocked down and replaced by something a lot more pleasant which "true" Parisians might once again deign to visit!!

  2. Cheers Dave - just healthy competition with Dan, I'm sure Eastern European football and urban planning can sit side by side :)

    Thanks for providing me with some commentary on Paris, a city you've clearly got to know well. In the context of how planning can interact with heritage, central Paris provides an excellent example (for better or worse) and, whilst not knowing the specific planning laws, you are right to suggest that developers have less wriggle room to change uses within a broad category.

    Cultural factors will also play a role and whilst local consultation does take place in the UK it is viewed quite cynically and always the same characters get involved - usually retired and often bored members of the community. Perhaps Parisians have a more revolutionary spirit to avoid mistakes such as Portobello. Or maybe the planning system is weighted towards factors other than pure economic gain?

  3. I think you're right on both points - the French do seem a lot more citizen-minded, getting involved in all manner of activity in the social sphere (not just strikes!)

    And it goes without saying that anything resembling a system with regulations of any kind in France never has solely economic gain in mind to the exclusion of all else!